DNA Versus Emotion
As technology moves forward, there always seems to be people who wish to contradict science and push it backward.
Such is the case with the new trend in discounting the use of DNA testing in criminal trials.
In the past ten years scientists have used DNA tests to determine if someone who is accused of a crime actually committed it. Testing usually does not positively identify an accuser as guilty of the crime, but it can exclude an accuser from committing a crime. DNA evidence is hard, scientific evidence that can show that someone did not commit a crime.
And in trials, evidence - hard, scientific evidence - is what is needed to decide a verdict.
DNA testing has been very useful in shedding light on a trial. Especially in rape or rape/murder cases, DNA testing can clear someone’s name.
It’s comforting to know that as hard evidence comes in to a case, that more and more people look at it as irrefutable. That people accept science and trust evidence when coming to a conclusion about a crime.
However, the trend toward accepting this science is now being fought.
“DNA may be important, but it’s not the ace that trumps all other cards,” said Bob Benjamin, a spokesman for the Illinois Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.
Why not? Why is it not important that conclusive evidence that the human traces left on a victim from their attacker could not be the defendant’s? Why is the fact that hair, skin, semen or saliva left on the victim’s body could not be the defendant’s not important? No answer.
And cases are increasingly being tried even when DNA tests show that the person in custody did not commit the crime.
Virginia Governor George Allen turned down a plea for a request for DNA tests from a convicted murderer on death row. Allen stated that even if the DNA testing cleared the incarcerated Joseph O’Dell, there was enough evidence to still prove that O’Dell raped and murdered a Virginia Beach woman.
Virginia Governor George Allen turned down the plea, and O’Dell was executed via lethal injection on schedule.
Although prosecutors do not claim to discount the evidence from DNA testing, they do not discount other evidence that may lead to the opposite conclusion.
But two different pieces of evidence cannot contradict each other - one must be wrong. Which is more likely to be wrong - an eye witness account, for instance, or scientific evidence with fingerprint-style accuracy?
DNA testing is is nearly infallible if done properly. Only human error, such as mishandling materials, would cause DNA testing to come into question.
But that’s one of the strongest points DNA testing is argued on. Recall the O.J. Simpson trial, when hard evidence was refuted with claims that evidence was mishandled.
However, in the O.J. Simpson trial, hard evidence was also refuted with unfounded claims that there was a police conspiracy or the theory that this was a drug hit. And the sad thing is, it was these emotional pleas, and not DNA evidence, that won over the jury and decided the case.
And that’s the only way you can argue against logic and science - by making a plea to emotions.
If a defense lawyer’s job is to free his client, then fighting science would have to be done by any means possible - discounting the science: DNA testing is too young. Discounting the way the data was collected: the blood was tampered with. Emphasizing other contradictory evidence: O.J. Simpson was in his home during the murder. Listening to testimonials and opinions from friends and experts: O.J. Simpson loved his wife, he couldn’t do it. introducing additional theories with or without merit as to what may have happened, pleading to the jury based on the character of the defendant. Pleading to their emotions.
But remember that all of these pleas are just that - pleas - and evidence cannot contradict science.
People try to balance science and mysticism, or faith, every day. Scientists shed more and more light each day on the creation of man and this planet, but religion denies it, for instance. Once I had a conversation with a religious woman, and she stated that dinosaurs never existed and that “science was the tool of the devil.” Another religious woman told me that she sinned once and got pregnant while out of wedlock, but God saved her by giving her a miscarriage.
Obviously logic and reason won’t win over a person who blatantly rejects logic and reason, but most people - especially in the United States, where science and technology have proven that people can live good lives - most people do believe in logic and reason, even if they have been taught otherwise. So their “philosophical lives” are spent trying to come up with a balance to these two opposing beliefs - of which there can be no compromise, but people still try. Okay, maybe the world wasn’t created in six days, maybe that was just a metaphor for the order and time lime things were created on the planet, one may decide. Okay, maybe there wasn’t a man made out of sand and a woman made from his rib, but maybe God started the ball rolling in the creation of man, one may think.
It is this belief in logic, science and reason, coupled with this clinging to faith and tradition that tries to allow both sides to be right. And it is this philosophical mind set that allows people to be sways by emotional pleas away from hard, scientific evidence.
That doesn’t change the fact that the evidence is there. It just changes how you look at it.
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